Saturday, February 28, 2015

2/28/1830 A major Payn appears

February 28, 1830.  English author James Payn was born on this date in Maidenhead.  He wrote many novels, and books of essays and short stories.  But he owes his place on this page to one accomplishment: as editor of Cornhill Magazine he turned down Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study In Scarlet.  Yup.  He is the man who rejected Sherlock Holmes.

And you thought you were having a bad day.

Friday, February 27, 2015

2/27/1945 Tony Hillerman gets a million-dollar wound

February 27, 1945.  On this date Tony Hillerman was an infantryman fighting his way through Alsace-Lorraine.  During a raid on the village of Niefern he stepped on a landmine.  Comrades carried him away under fire on a stretcher - until one stepped on another mine.  A second lifted him in a fireman's carry, then dropped him into a cold stream.

He made it out, losing one eye and part of one foot.  Nonetheless he considered it a lucky "million dollar wound," getting him out of combat while still alive.  In his memoir, Seldom Disappointed, Hillerman sees the injury as part of a long set of circumstances and coincidences that gets him to the right place at the right time: namely the New Mexico desert just as a group of Navajo cross the road during an Enemy Way ceremony for a returning soldier.  The fascination with what he saw leads to a lifelong interest and a career writing about fictional Navajo police officers.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

2/26/1962 Donald E. Westlake's 87th Precinct?

February 26, 1962.  This is a complicated story, so bear with me. 

In  1959 Donald E. Westlake started writing a series of stories about Abe Levine, a New York police detective.  What made these stories unusual was that Levine was afraid that he had a heart condition that might kill him, and each of his cases was colored and shaped by his own dance with mortality.

(My first encounter with Westlake, by the way, was as a teenager when I read "Come Back, Come Back," the second Levine story, in a Hitchcock anthology.  It knocked my socks off.)

But the third story was called "The Feel of the Trigger," and Westlake (in his introduction to the book Levine)  said it "probably showed at its peak the influence of Evan Hunter on my development as a writer."  He had been reading the 87th Precinct books which Hunter had recently started writing under the name Ed McBain. 

And speaking of which, there was at the time a TV series based on those same books, and "The Feel of the Trigger" was purchased to serve as the basis of an episode of the same name on 87th Precinct, which was shown February 26, 1962. 

"Unfortunately, I couldn't be home that night," Westlake explained, "but a friend offered to tape the program for me.  Remember, we're talking about 1962, not 1982, and the tape he was talking about was sound.  He did record the program, and some time later I heard it, and my memory of it is a lot of footsteps and several doors being opened.  Some day I'd like to see that show." 

You can buy the whole series on DVD now.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

2/25/1930 Patricia Guiver is born

February 25, 1930.  Patricia Guiver was born on this date in Surrey, England.  She wrote first for British newspapers and, after moving to California, as an American correspondent for British magazines.  But it was her interest in the protection of animals that led her to create Delilah Doolittle, pet detective.  Statrting in 1997 she wrote a series of novels about the fiftyish English widow, living in California, and solving crimes about beasties.  When she passed away at age 76, the seventh novel was left unfinished. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

2/24/2008 No Country For Old Men is best picture

February 24, 2008.  For the third year in a row (after Crash and The Departed)  a crime-related movie won the Oscar for Best Picture.  In fact, No Country For Old Men, a Coen brothers film based on Cormac McCarthy's novel, was nominated for eight Oscars and picked up four.  It starred Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, and Javier Bardem, who picked up the little silver guy for Best Supporting Actor.

Am I the only one who thinks that poster looks like Brolin is being sneezed out of Bardem's schnozz?

Monday, February 23, 2015

2/23/2010 Apple Turnover Murder is baked

February 23, 2010.  On this day Apple Turnover Murder was published.  It was Joanne Fluke's thirteenth novel about Hannah Swenson, a baker in Minnesota.  While serving as a magician's assistant at a charity show Hannah discovers the corpse of a former lover.  Recipes included...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

2/22/1925 Edward Gorey born

February 22, 1925.  Edward Gorey, a master of creepy illustrations and odd humor, was 
born this day. Besides his cheerful alphabet books about children dying horrible deaths, and tales of vaguely described sexual oddities, Gorey provided the title artwork for the PBS series Mystery. 

In 1978 the Mystery Writers of America gave him the Raven Award for the sets he designed for Dracula on Broadway.  He won the Tony Award for best costume design for the same play.  He also won the World Fantasy Award for best artist.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

2/21/2004 Mumbo Gumbo takes the prize

February 21, 2004.  The Lefty Award is given out each year at Left Coast Crime for the best humorous mystery novel.  On this day, in Monterey, California, it went to Jerrilyn Farmer for Mumbo Gumbo.  Maddie the caterer gets roped into working for a quiz show when a food writer mysteriously  disappears...

Friday, February 20, 2015

2/20/1928 Bill Knox is born

February 20, 1928.  Scottish writer Bill Knox got off to an early start, working for a Glasgow newspaper at age 16.  He published more than 50 crime novels, most famously the Thane and Moss books.  He was famous for his descriptions for Scottish policework.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

2/19/1934 The Thin Man appears

February 19, 1934.  On  this date Knopf published The Thin Man.  It was Dashiell Hammett's last published novel, although he lived more than twenty years longer.  The book introduced Nick and Nora Charles, who went on to star in a series of movies, some of them written (or outlined) by Hammett.  Nick Charles was not the titular Thin Man, by the way, but that got lost in the films. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

2/18/1937 Busman's Honeymoon drives up

February 18, 1937.  On this date Harcourt, Brace and World published Busman's Honeymoon, Dorothy L. Sayers' eleventh novel about Lord Peter Wimsey.  It was the last book she completed about him (and in fact, began as a play).  Having succeeded in getting him married to Harriet Vane, Sayers was more interested in writing Christian apologetics.   The subtitle is "A Love Story With Detective Interruptions."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

2/17/1920 Adam Hall is born

February 17, 1920.  Like any good spy writer, Adam Hall was born under an alias.  All right, he was born  with the name Trevor Dudley-Smith, and changed it to Elleston Trevor.  It was under that name he wrote The Flight of the Phoenix, which has been filmed twice. 

But in our field he is best known for the books he wrote as Adam Hall, about a spy named Quiller.  The first one The Quiller Memorandum, won the Edgar for best mystery  novel It was filmed in 1966.    Among his other pseudonyms was Simon Rattray, whose books featured an amateur detective named Hugh Bishop.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Breach is committed

February 16, 2007.  On this date Breach was released, a movie based on a true story of a young CIA agent being tutored by Robert Hanssen, who sold secrets to the USSR.  Chris Cooper gave a truly creepy performance as the traitor, with Ryan Phillipe as the hero.

"One might propose that I am either insanely brave or quite insane. I’d answer neither. I’d say, insanely loyal. Take your pick. There’s insanity in all the answers."

Sunday, February 15, 2015

2/15/1919 Five Thousand Dollar Reward

February 15, 1919.  The Saturday Evening Post issue with this cover date featured the short story "Five Thousand Dollar Reward," by Melville Davisson Post.  Post (the author, not the magazine) was very popular a hundred years ago, especially for his stories about backwoods sleuth, Uncle Abner.  This story, which was picked for the O. Henry collection of the best tales of the year, is about Walker of the Secret Service and his encounter with a hobo who he claimed was the best detective he ever met.  You can read the whole story here  Link fixed.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

2/14/1971 Ross Macdonald gets a Valentine

February 14, 1971.  John Leonard, editor of the New York Times Book Review, was a big fan of Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer novels, so when
The Underground Man was due for publication he went all out.  He gave the book to another Archerphile to review: the distinguished novelist Eudora Welty.  Her glowing report wound up on the front page of the review on this date, and went on for five pages.  It got Macdonald's book onto the best seller list, and all his later books followed it there.  Macdonald and Welty  became friends and each dedicated a book to the other. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

2/13/1903 Simenon born

February 13, 1903.  Georges Simenon was born in Li├Ęge, Belgium on this day.  He wrote almost 200 novels, including more than seventy about French policeman Jules Maigret, one of the most popular detectives in literature.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

2/12/1964 He Who Hesitates

February 12, 1964.  Ed McBain wrote more than sixty 87th Precinct novels, but he wasn't content to write to formulas.  The series contained a ghost story, a political satire,  romances, and this weird thing.  He Who Hesitates takes place on this date, and is told from the viewpoint of Roger Broome, who visited the anonymous city of the series, and commited a crime.  That happens before the book starts, and we spend the whole novel watching him think about it and try to decide whether to tell the cops.  So the 87th Precinct boys, the nominal heroes, are only seen from his point of view.   The book may not be a great success, but give the author credit for trying something different.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

2/11/1912 Roy Fuller is born

February 11, 1912.  Roy Fuller was born this day in England.  He was successful as a corporate lawyer, a poet, and a writer of mysteries.  He died in London at age 79.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

2/10/2006 Pink Panther escapes again

February 10, 2006.  The Pink Panther was released on this date.  Not that Pink Panther.  The original film which introduced Inspector Clouseau (played by Peter Sellers) was released in 1963.  This was the remake that gave the role to Steve Martin.  It wasn't a big hit with the critics.

Monday, February 9, 2015

2/9/2002 Isabelle Holland passes away

February 9, 2002. Isabelle Holland died on this day in New York City.  She was 81.   Holland was the author of more than fifty books, many of them for children.

She wrote five novels about the Reverend Claire Aldington, an Episcopal priest.  Was A Death at St. Anselms (1984)  the first mystery about a female member of the clergy?  Certainly there were nun-sleuths first...

Sunday, February 8, 2015

2/8/1964. Al Nussbaum sentenced to 30 years in prison.

February 8, 1964.  A few years earlier, mystery writer Dan Marlowe received the type of phone call most writers only dream of: a fan writing to praise the authenticity of his bankrobber novel The Name of the Game is Death.  It wasn't until the FBI showed up at his door that Marlowe found out that the fan was an actual bankrobber, on the Most Wanted List, no less.

Al Nussbaum was captured in 1962 and on this date he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.  Taking advantage of this enforced hiatus, Nussbaum rehabilitated himself by starting a career as a mystery writer.  He was eventually paroled with help from Marlowe and other members of Mystery Writers of America and, after Marlowe suffered a bad stroke, Nussbaum helped him get started writing again. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

2/7/1955 Elisabeth Sanxay Holding dies

February 7, 1955.  Chances are you never heard of Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, who died on this day, but she was a well-regarded mystery writer in the middle of the twentieth century.  With that three-chapter name it sounds like she should have been writing cozies, but she was one of the preeminent female authors of hardboiled. 

How preeminent?  Raymond Chandler, not an easy man to please, called her "the top suspense writer of them all."  Critic Anthony Boucher said she was "in a class by herself."

Her best known book The Blank Wall was filmed twice, as Reckless Moment (1947) and The Deep End (2001).  Thanks to Persephone Books it is back in print.

Friday, February 6, 2015

2/6/1939 The Big Sleep awakens

February 6, 1939.  Today Alfred A Knopf published The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler's first novel.  It was cannibalized, in the author's word, from several short stories he had written for Black Mask Magazine.  The book starred Philip Marlowe, the quintessential tough, cynical private eye in all his wise-cracking glory.  The plot doesn't bear too much looking into (Chandler admitted he couldn't remember who killed one of the characters) but the language and characters made the book a classic.  It was filmed twice, once with Bogart and once with (a regrettably too-old) Mitchum.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

2/5/1980 Mystery! premieres

February 5, 1980.  PBS demonstrated why they are sometimes known as the  Petroleum and British Society, by introducing a series of British detective stories sponsored (and indeed proposed by) Mobil.  One of the hits  that first season was Rumpole of the Bailey.  Others that followed included Sergeant Cribb, Inspector Morse, Prime Suspect, Foyle's War, and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett.  Hosts: Gene Shalit, Vincent Price, and Diana Rigg.  Nowadays Mystery! is part of Masterpiece.  And let's not forget those wonderful Edward Gorey illustrations...

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

2/4/1992 Blanche on the Lam

February 4, 1992.  On this date BarbaraNeely's first novel was published.  Blanche on the Lam introduces an African-American domestic worker coping in a difficult world.  She escapes a 30-day jail sentence for writing bad checks by going to work for a true Southern Gothic family of conniving relatives.

The book won the Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Awards for best first mystery.  Neely has followed with three more books about Blanche.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

2/3/1927 Joan Lowery Nixon is born

February 3, 1927.  Joan Lowery Nixon was born on this date in Los Angeles.  Her 100+ books, mostly for children and young adults, brought her an unprecedented 4 Edgar Awards from the Mystery Writers of America, scoring five other nominations.

I know one young reader, the veteran of countless R.L. Stine Goosebumps books, who thought her The Name of the Game was Murder was too suspenseful...

Monday, February 2, 2015

2/2/1985 A real cop investigates Cagney and Lacey

February 2, 1985.  Cagney and Lacey, the first network show about female police detectives, premiered in 1982.  In 1985 TV Guide invited Dorothy Uhnak to offer her viewpoint on the series.  Uhnak was doubly qualified for the job.  She was the other of two novels about a female cop, and she had been one herself.

In the article she explains how, in 1955, as an undercover New York City Transit officer she disarmed and busted a rapist, and suddenly became famous.  She reports on some of the humiliating encounters with the media that followed - A female cop!  And she's a hero!   How hilarious!

Uhnak's conclusion about the TV cops?  "I'd walk through a dark alley with Cagney or Lacey behind me. That is the ultimate compliment from one police officer to another."

Sunday, February 1, 2015

2/1/1920 Colin Watson is born

February 1, 1920.  Colin Watson was born today in England.  He was known for light detective novels featuring  Inspector Walter Purbright and con woman Miss Lucilla Teatime.  Two of his books (Hopjoy Was Here and Lonely Heart 4122) were nominated for the Crime Writers' Association Gold Dagger.